The Pixel 5a could be looking at even more of an uphill battle than its predecessors this year as while "riding the coattails" of a Pixel device isn't exactly a winning proposition by itself, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a at least benefited from generally positive reviews of the higher-end device they got their name from.
Not so this time around as the Pixel 5 wasn't panned by any means, but due to Google's deliberate shift downmarket with that device it wasn't in the discussion with the best flagships. It was further buried by the boom in that $699 price bracket with the likes of the Galaxy S20 FE and iPhone 12 mini garnering more attention, but if the Pixel 5a can come close to the Pixel 5 that while hanging on to its $349 price point, that will be a device that grabs attention among the best budget phones.
Here's a look at all of the latest rumors and our own research on the Pixel 5a to give you some insight into the device, including the expected release date, pricing, design, specs and more.
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Pixel 5a release date
There’s no official word on when to expect a successor to the Pixel 4a, but given that it’s the most successful pixel devices, we assume the Pixel 5a is coming. The release date for the Pixel 4a slipped into August last year, but it was originally expected to launch around the same spring timeframe as its predecessor.
According to the most recent rumors from the oft-reliable leaker Jon Prosser, the Pixel 5a will edge toward the usual timeframe with a June 11 launch date. Prosser is hardly infallible, but this certainly falls within the rough late-spring timeline Google has targeted previously.
Source has confirmed and followed up:The Pixel device coming on June 11th is the Pixel 5a. https://t.co/vBWFomSjvWMarch 9, 2021
We would expect Google to eventually push back to a May debut for more separation from the primary Pixel release in the fall. However, an early June launch would certainly make sense after last year’s shifted release schedule.
Pixel 5a price
There have been no leaks regarding the price of the Pixel 5a just yet. But it’s hard to imagine the phone moving from the $349 price point of its predecessors given the level of success it has enjoyed.
With that said, it is difficult to project exactly what Google will do with Pixel pricing this year. It’s shaping up to be a transitional year for Google’s smartphone lineup with the Pixel 6 believed to be returning to a true flagship-class phone and rumors of a Pixel foldable still circulating.
What we could imagine is a higher-tier Pixel 5a, like last year’s Pixel 4a 5G, particularly if Google is still unable to deliver 5G at the $349 price point for a standard Pixel 5a.
Pixel 5a design
We’ve had one real leak regarding the design of the Pixel 5a, but it’s a good one. Steve Hemmerstoffer (a.k.a. OnLeaks) released a series of renders based on alleged spec leaks that he received. While he doesn’t have a perfect track record, he’s been quite reliable over the years.
If you loved the design of the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G, then you are in luck because the Pixel 5a looks nearly identical based on these renders. The hole-punch camera is in its same familiar position in the upper-left corner with fairly minimal bezels surrounding the screen.
Hemmerstoffer of course, had full dimensions to use for these renders. At 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches, it is just slightly smaller than the Pixel 4a 5G (6.3 x 2.9 x 0.33 inches). Considering the screen is supposed to be the same 6.2-inch FHD (2340 x 1080-pixel) OLED as the 4a 5G, this would suggest the top and bottom bezels will be trimmed down.
Considering its place in the lineup, it isn’t surprising that Google wouldn’t make significant design moves with the Pixel 5a. We hope to see some real change come with the Pixel 6 this year and for those to trickle down to a Pixel 6a in 2022.
Pixel 5a cameras
Google’s stagnancy with camera hardware in the Pixel lineup has become the stuff of legend, so there’s good and bad news for the Pixel 5a.
The bad news is that Google isn’t introducing any completely new camera hardware with the Pixel 5a. But the good news is that it appears to be bringing the Pixel 5 cameras to the cheaper model with a 16MP ultra-wide lens and that tried-and-true 12.2MP main sensor.
While details regarding the sensor for the front-facing camera haven't surfaced yet, the physical size of the hole punch selfie camera on the Pixel 5a could be noticeably smaller than previous models as 9to5Google found references in the Google Camera code to a 55-pixel radius for this camera, down from 65 on the Pixel 4a 5G.
As always, the real magic of the Pixel camera is in computational photography. While it has arguably been overtaken on the high-end, no one is challenging in the sub-$400 price range, and this hardware update will make that true again in 2021.
Pixel 5a performance
None of the leaks to date have offered up any details regarding what will be powering the Pixel 5a. But given the projected pricing and Google reliably sticking with Qualcomm processors, we can narrow it down to a couple of options.
The most obvious choice would be the Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G. This is the direct successor to the Snapdragon 730G found in the Pixel 4a, which offers a 100MHz higher clock speed and roughly a 15% bump to graphics performance according to Qualcomm. The main reason Google wouldn’t go with the Snapdragon 732G is that it lacks integrated 5G. We’ve already seen devices in this price range, like the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and the TCL 10 5G UW, deliver 5G and that’s going to be increasingly common in 2021 and beyond.
In order to bring 5G to the Pixel 5a, the company would either have to move up to the Snapdragon 765G that was used in the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 last year or down (by processor series number anyway) to the Snapdragon 690 seen in the aforementioned OnePlus Nord N10 5G. Notably, despite the lower number, the Snapdragon 690 delivers virtually identical performance figures to the Snapdragon 765G in our testing. Gaming is the one exception with the superior graphics performance of the 765G, but neither is stellar in this regard.
Pixel 5a outlook
There’s no question that all of the attention is on the Pixel 6 this year with Google trying to right its flagship, but the Pixel 5a shouldn’t be ignored. Google has yet to prove it can deliver a truly high-end phone to compete with the best from Samsung and Apple. However, it has definitively proven that it can produce some of the best budget phones on the market.
If the Pixel 5a can deliver 90% of the Pixel 4a 5G/Pixel 5 experience at $349, that would be enough to make it easily one of the top recommendations for anyone looking to spend less than $500 on a new phone in 2021.